SYDNEY (Reuters) - Cheteshwar Pujara grabbed the headlines on Thursday with his third century of the series against Australia but Mayank Agarwal’s innings of 77 was another bright spot for India on a day when pretty much everything went right for the tourists.
India might be riding high at number one on the world test rankings, and on the evidence of day one at the Sydney Cricket Ground look set to win a first test series in Australia, but the opening partnership has been a problematic area.
Teenager Prithvi Shaw pretty much nailed down one opening spot with his Player of the Series effort against West Indies in October but suffered the misfortune of a serious ankle injury in the warm-up match for this series.
Agarwal, a mainstay of the Karnataka and India A sides, was called up for his debut after India lost the second test in Perth and made the most of his chance with innings of 76 and 42 as the tourists crushed Australia in Melbourne.
On Thursday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he again showed great control and no little courage, brushing off blows to his elbow and helmet as the Australian pacemen subjected him to a barrage the likes of which he had never faced before.
“I think the Aussies came really, really hard,” the 27-year-old told reporters. “Quick, short bouncers, they were very sharp there. And they were consistent with it.”
He survived to reach the half-century mark by punching the ball through the covers for four to become only the third Indian opener after Sunil Gavaskar and Shaw to score fifties in two of their first three test innings.
His prospects of retaining his spot were not hurt by his opening partner KL Rahul - recalled in place of Rohit Sharma after being dropped in the wake of the Perth defeat - giving up his wicket for nine runs in the second over of the day.
India’s sometimes hyper-critical fan base has been tired of the continual failures of the openers but those same critics are also likely to have something to say about the way Agarwal’s innings ended.
After reaching the half century mark, he immediately started playing more expansive strokes, highlighted by two sixes off Nathan Lyon to long-on that helped take his partnership with Pujara to 116 runs.
An attempt at a third was pushing his luck against an experienced campaigner like Lyon and the off-spinner delivered a slightly shorter ball which Agarwal skied to long-on fielder Mitchell Starc.
“I was looking to dominate but it didn’t work out,” Agarwal conceded. “I am quite disappointed for missing out on a big score, and I guess I’m really disappointed that I threw my wicket (away).
“That said, it’s a learning curve. If I don’t make that mistake again then it’ll be a good lesson.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Sudipto Ganguly